Weeks 22-25: It’s A Growth Hacker’s Paradise

Hello, how’s it going?

Welcome to Weeks 22-25 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. As always, past weeks can be read here.

Something unexpected has happened.

Moving to monthly updates has given me so much more time and energy to spend on my site that actually documenting it has taken a backseat.

Like the third row in one of those SUVs that families of 6 drive.

As it turns out, I still really like to build in stealth.

It’s been fun to “put myself out there,” but it’s a lot more fun to build a multi-million dollar business under the radar.

That said, I will continue the monthly updates as promised. You’ve seen my mind and mood change multiple times during this journey, so who knows where it’ll be in a few weeks?

Not me.

But what I do know is that my site is growing quickly, and I’m using an extremely straightforward approach.

In Today’s Email:

  • February by the numbers.
  • Hey Google, I really don’t care.
  • It’s a growth hacker’s paradise.
  • Me, myself, and AI.
  • Seriously Google, I really don’t care.
  • I’m launching two products.
  • 40k -> 400k subscribers.
  • Oh, about that whole $20k thing…
  • What I’d do differently.

First, here are the important numbers for February.

The site did 94,562 page views compared to 61,998 in January, a 52% increase despite a shortened month.

The best number to report, however, is total email subscribers: 39,827.

That’s up from 23,202 in January, a 71% increase.

Thanks to the newsletter growth, February’s page views from email were 55,132 compared to just 22,401 in January, an increase of 146%.

The rest is primarily Facebook traffic. Google still isn’t sending any amount of significant traffic, but here’s the thing:

I really don’t care.

My strategy has become very simple.

As much as I preach multi-platform growth, there’s always one that takes priority.

For this site, it’s email, which is speaking for itself in 2023:

When something is working, I like to go all in.

What’s working is this formula:

ChatGPT-fueled content creation + Facebook lead gen ads + an incredible daily email.

It’s like a growth hacker’s paradise.

There’s no reason for me to bury my head in keyword tools and hate my life while I try to figure out why the elusive Google isn’t blessing my site.

Only for them to inevitably change how users search anyway once Bard is ready.

It makes sense for me to own my audience (email) and make their life better every single day.

That’s it.

The rest of this email is going to be about each component of that simple strategy:

  • Growing the list
  • Creating content for the list
  • Monetizing the list

Growing the list…

I’ve gone over how to create successful Facebook lead gen campaigns enough to not repeat myself.

And I’ve outlined why I think it’s mathematically impossible for me to not succeed.

In February, I spent right around $4,000, which Facebook has nicely put on net 30 payment terms (an option that becomes available after a certain amount of spend).

During February, that spend plus organic growth added nearly 17,000 subscribers.

Around 23 cents per email.

What has blown me away is that the open rate is still increasing. In 15 years of building email lists, it’s always been a struggle to deal with decreasing open rates because users get fatigued and drop off.

That will inevitably be a problem at some point in the future, but my open rates have gone from 23-28% to 30-37%.

I believe there are two reasons:

  1. I’m getting better and better at the content, so I’m beginning to hook more people who were likely not opening it as much in the early days. Re-capturing subscribers is massively valuable.
  2. The email has gone to the Primary Gmail folder regularly for a couple of weeks now.

A lot of marketers don’t think #2 matters, but in my experience, it’s the difference between around 5 percentage points.

In Week 14, I talked a little about how I think you can land in Primary.

Basically, I’m constantly interacting with my subscribers and the language in my emails is conversational (not promotional).

If you’re building a list and going to the Promotions folder, it’s not the end of the world. Just factor it into your strategy.

Creating content for the list…

I really don’t want to talk about AI in this email, but I have no choice.

It’s everywhere.

I will say this: if you’re not staying on top of it, you’re not only getting left behind but you’re missing out on massive opportunities.

It might surprise you to hear me say that because I didn’t have a great experience with Jasper, and I’m also a believer that the human touch still brings considerably more value.

During the initial ChatGPT craze, I even Tweeted that AI was a party trick that will wear off.

I was wrong.

There’s clearly a place for ChatGPT (and the plethora of other AI tools) in all of our lives, and it’s going to exponentially affect all of us… ideally in positive ways.

Nonetheless, as it pertains to my challenge site, I’ve gotten better at prompt engineering, I can easily publish 3 great pieces every day to the site.

But how will Google look at that content?

I really don’t care.

My traffic comes from my email list, not Google.

Will I ever rank in Google for this content?

Again, I really don’t care anymore.

So here’s the simple one-two punch I’m using for content.

  1. Use ChatGPT to generate ideas for articles, and then create said articles. I always put my own human touch on them then use Canva to create images and the featured thumbnail. These articles are linked inside of my newsletter.
  2. Everything written in my actual newsletter, however, is by me. Email is a very personal space when it comes to distribution. If you were to use ChatGPT, sure it can be OK… but this is where I focus on my personality. I want people to feel like they’re getting an email from their friend who just so happens to say “by the way, read these articles…”

This strategy is working really well.

And I love that it’s very straightforward and independent of algorithms.

Monetizing the list…

Last month, one of the questions I left you with was, “Will my subscribers just pay me?”

Well, the short answer is No.

Despite their loyalty and love for the newsletter, it just didn’t work very well at all to offer some sort of Patreon-style support option. My particular audience isn’t exactly swimming in money, so I’m not surprised.

Also I didn’t push it much. It was a subtle line at the end of the email mostly because I felt a little weird asking in the first place.

That said, I gave it a try and now I’m moving on.

Right now, display ads are doing fairly well. AdThrive earns around a $17 RPM.

I had hoped that would be more, but I also refuse to use a video ad unit and have a fairly modest ad layout.

If you hate looking at your own site, there’s a good chance everyone else does too.

Nonetheless, through listening to my audience, I’ve really identified their pain points which is the first step to direct monetization.

What are their primary problems? What are they missing in life?

I can’t go into detail without revealing my niche, which I’m not ready to do yet, but I’ve pretty clearly nailed the answers to those questions.

There are two things I’m now working on:

  1. A digital product
  2. A physical product

The digital product is an e-book that basically helps them with one of their pain points.

To use my introvert website example I’ve used in past emails, I might try to sell an e-book titled, “How To Thrive In An Extrovert-Dominated World.”

The best part? Our friend ChatGPT can handle a lot of the work. In an hour, I had a 10,000 word e-book with helpful content, checklists, personal stories (technically fake), and other complementary material.

Once I put the finishing touches on it, I’ll offer it inexpensively and let you know how it goes.

The physical product is basically a card game I’m making that helps them connect better with certain people in their lives. I actually purchased one with all 5 star reviews on Amazon, and it’s incredibly easy to make my own version.

Looking at Alibaba, I can get them manufactured for about $2-3 each and sell them for $20-25. I’m not sure how I feel about using Alibaba, so no judging me there. I’ve never used it before, but I can certainly see why people do.

By my next update on April 1st, I will have tested enough monetization routes that I’ll have plenty of concrete takeaways.

So, what now?

In a lot of ways, I’ve actually surprised myself by making sure I stay the course, continue to learn, and constantly iterate.

It’s what I say, in one way or another, every time I email you. Just keep learning and keep trying things.

If you recall, on Week 7, I actually hated this challenge. I didn’t believe in the site I was building, I hated the topic, and I was pretty sure this challenge would end with me basically just walking away and going back to playing Rocket League 5 hours a day.

But, by putting pressure on myself to continue, I now feel like I have something special.

My site is speaking to a group of people who nobody has ever paid attention to – at least not in the way that I am.

I’m actually passionate about it now. I actually like writing the daily email.

And most importantly, I got through the weeds of the early stages and found a clear path that works.

From here, I only have 3 straightforward goals:

  1. Take the email list from 40,000 subs to 400,000.
  2. Never, ever let up on hitting my audience with high quality content every day.
  3. Find that much-needed additional revenue source.

The first two are already happening. The third will happen – it just hasn’t yet. It’s my highest priority in March.

Oh, by the way, how much money is left?

I haven’t forgotten the whole “$20k” part of this challenge.

I barely even talk about my expenses in detail anymore because, honestly, almost nobody cares about the numbers behind the challenge. Most readers have told me they enjoy reading my thought processes and experiences along the way.

That said, I’ve mostly lost track of my expenses but it’s pretty easy to give you a close estimate.

By far, the biggest expense has been on Facebook ads: ~$17,000 (about $4k of that is owed but not paid yet).

I also had a $1,500 writer payment, which was a waste of money considering ChatGPT has pretty much replaced him for my purposes. (Please do not take that as me saying all writers are replaceable!)

Plenty of other odds and ends: hosting, former Jasper subscription, Ahrefs, ConvertKit, and other tools.

Bottom line is, I’m right around that $20k mark. Of course I’ve brought in around $3,000 in revenue which is growing quickly and offsetting some of the expenses.

And finally, what would I do differently?

There aren’t that many takeaways in this email because I’m simply doing exactly what I’ve said I would do: build my email list and constantly make small improvements.

But when I set out and began writing my guides and then ultimately these challenge emails, the entire goal was to cut out as much garbage as possible to fast track your success.

So I’ll end this email by doing more of that. At roughly the 5 month mark, when I look back at this journey, what would I do differently?

I’d spend less on Facebook Likes.

This doesn’t mean I’d spend $0. It means I wouldn’t have spent $5,000 of a $20,000 budget on it.

The Reach on Link posts is far too inconsistent and I didn’t even really see any jump in engagement between around 40,000 followers and 100,000 followers.

Not only that, but $5000 at 20 cents per email subscriber is 25,000 subs! Money much better spent.

I would’ve embraced AI a little sooner.

There are two camps of people when it comes to AI (well, three…).

  1. Those who have seen the tech world get hyped for years (Crypto, etc) and waiting to see if it’s a fad.
  2. Those who think it’s going to replace all humans and we’re all absolutely doomed.

The third and probably most accurate camp is in the middle.

I was in camp 1 without a doubt. There’s also an element of just not wanting to face the reality because humans tend to dislike change, especially if they’ve got a good thing going.

But I’m telling you now: it’s much more powerful than magically watching a Chatbot write copy.

It goes far, far, far deeper than that, and it’s going to be, in some way or another, part of all of our businesses.

If you’re not getting Ben’s Bites, subscribe to it. It’s the easiest way to stay on top of what’s happening. (That’s not a sponsored or planned link, btw.)

I have so many more thoughts on AI but this isn’t the place for it. I did write a kneejerk emotional reaction to the arrogance of Microsoft launching the new Bing with zero regard to publishers.

But much like AI itself, my view has evolved significantly since I wrote it. That’s the nature of anything new, I guess.

Next thing I’d do differently: I’d consider starting the site with a partner.

Even though having partners has been a mixed bag in my entrepreneurial journey, there are benefits.

When you have the right person along with you, it’s a lot easier to navigate the lows… and it’s a lot more fun to celebrate the highs.

I would’ve built on GeneratePress, not Astra Pro.

No need for me to go into detail here, but the Astra Pro WordPress theme has been painful to use. Fortunately, at this point, I understand it much better and I give props to the support team.

They’re probably tired of hearing from me. Nonetheless, I would’ve just stuck with GeneratePress.

I would have done even less keyword research.

It’s no secret that I dislike keyword research for a variety of reasons. But I found myself sucked into it anyway around the 2nd or 3rd month.

That was time that, in hindsight, I wasted. This is certainly not true for everyone, but I’ve never felt less interest in trying to make a corporate giant deem my words worthy of coming up in a search engine that they’re going to change anyway.

And finally, I would’ve picked something I’m more passionate about.

While I have learned to embrace my chosen topic, and I actually enjoy it now, I would’ve saved myself a lot of mental pain by just sticking with a passion.

To be completely honest, that’s exactly what I was doing with my personal site. But this challenge has completely derailed that, which is OK, but also disappointing.

I enjoy writing and talking about marketing and business. I enjoy helping others launch and grow. In the future, I do plan to offer consulting to businesses of all sizes, but right now, I see a massive opportunity to take my challenge site to another level.

Have a great March, and I’ll see you on April Fool’s Day (for real).

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Scott DeLong

I'm an introvert who has built and sold multiple companies for millions of dollars - without funding or employees. I've been featured in BusinessWeek, Business Insider, Fortune, Inc, and more. I hope you find my site helpful to your own entrepreneurial journey. If you need help with your site, you can get unlimited consulting from me.